Okeechobee shows support for children’s mental health

Posted 1/22/19

It seems that wherever we turn in 2018, someone is mentioning mental health. We see it in national news stories, read about it in internet commentary and even hear it discussed in scripted television …

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Okeechobee shows support for children’s mental health

It seems that wherever we turn in 2018, someone is mentioning mental health. We see it in national news stories, read about it in internet commentary and even hear it discussed in scripted television series and movies. We are inundated with messages concerning the importance of positive mental health but rarely given a reason why.

The Harvard University Center on the Developing Child (2013) helps us to fill in those blanks: “Sound mental health provides an essential foundation of stability that supports all other aspects of human development — from the formation of friendships and the ability to cope with adversity to the achievement of success in school, work and community life.”

Special to the Okeechobee News
Representatives from the Okeechobee Children’s Mental Health System of Care, 211, Martha’s House, New Horizons, Suncoast Mental Health, Legacy and Tykes and Teens met with students throughout lunch periods at OHS on May 10.

That is to say, our entire lives are affected by the status of our mental health, as positive mental health leads to positive growth.

Life happens, however, and the world is not a perfect place. Traumas occur — violently rattling psyches, genetics are passed from parent to child, and often mental illnesses occur. With seventy-five percent of mental health disorders developing by the age of 24 (National Institute of Mental Health), awareness of this issue is vital.

The first step in supporting children’s mental health is recognizing that, just like adults, mental disorders can, and do, exist in children of all ages, races, cultures and economic backgrounds. We must be aware that these disorders are medical conditions, rather than simply weaknesses or negative character traits. Just as type one diabetes isn’t a personal lifestyle choice, neither is mental illness. Unfortunately, a pervasive stigma exists throughout our society, placing blame and shame on mental health disorders and those individuals coping with them.

Beginning in 2006, SAMHSA (the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Agency) launched a national day of awareness, drawing attention to the importance of mental health throughout childhood and youth and attempting to negate all stigmas attached to mental illness. This year, National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day was on Thursday, May 10.

Kiwanis Club of Okeechobee, the Healthy Start Coalition, School District Administrators, Mental Health Agencies, and the Okeechobee County Library were just some of the many locals who showed their support for Children’s Mental Health Awareness by wearing green on May 10.

After a statewide proclamation by Gov. Rick Scott, the State of Florida initiated a social media campaign to celebrate the occasion. You can share your support of children’s mental health throughout the month of May by joining us and using the hashtags #notalone, #letstalkaboutit, and #itstartshere. Let children and youth across the state and the nation know that you support them. Share stories of your own struggles and triumphs, advice on ways you’ve made it through, and statements of affirmation for those who may still be struggling.

We showed our support across Okeechobee by wearing green — the color of children’s mental health awareness month, and sharing knowledge and support through two local events. On the morning of May 10, students at OHS had an opportunity to chat with local mental health and community providers during their lunch periods, learning about services and opportunities available to teens in our area and taking pledges to support mental health.

That evening, families across Okeechobee were invited to join us in the Williamson Education Center at IRSC for a fun and informative evening filled with information about the educational rights of children with IEPs and 504 Plans. This event was hosted by the Okeechobee Children’s Mental Health System of Care and featured keynote speakers Wendy Coker, the Okeechobee County schools’ director of ESE, and Sandy Akre, director of FDLRS Galaxy. Guests enjoyed a light meal, informative discussions and activities for all ages, including special activities for children ages 3 and up, throughout the presentations.

Though National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day is officially behind us, there are still things you can do to show your support. Help us create a community where the stigma of mental illness no longer exists. Ask questions to learn the truths about mental health, promote facts and honest information and keep an open mind when interacting with the world around you.

For more information on the System of Care, children’s mental health awareness and awareness day events, contact Jane Kaufman, System of Care family coordinator, at 863-462-5125, extension 135.
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